JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – For the first time since a Community Watchdog investigation exposed concerns within the Johnson City Fire Department, city leaders are acknowledging the problem. They’re now also demanding the city manager come up with a plan to address the ongoing issues.
In City Manager Pete Peterson’s most recent evaluation, his bosses (city commissioners) listed developing an effective employee relations strategy for the fire department as number two on his list of objectives for the next year.
A review of Peterson’s 45-page evaluation reveals general comments from every city commissioner about the lack of accountability at city hall, especially for employees and department heads who don’t perform or act unprofessional.
Commissioner Jenny Brock specifically referenced the fire department situation.
“I encourage Pete to work harder to deal with issues in the Fire Department and establish a mutually respectful environment,” Brock said in her comments.
“The Commission’s made it very clear, we’re not going to referee this, you all are all big boys and girls, we want you all to do your jobs, sit down at the table, let’s resolve the differences, let’s resolve any conflict, let’s create some solutions,” Mayor Clayton Stout said Wednesday. “Bottom line is sit down and work it out, try to get on some common ground and let’s move forward.”
Firefighters consider the directive a good sign for the future of the department and city. Johnson City Professional Firefighters Association President Charlie Ihle says it’s long overdue.
“Finally somebody has our back,” Ihle said. “We’d like to thank the City Commission for finally addressing there is an issue, especially in the fire department. They are finally holding Mr. Peterson accountable. I think that shows that the City Commission’s serious, that this is an issue at hand that needs to be addressed immediately.”
The City Commission’s action comes after an internal investigation raised concerns about the leadership and behavior of JCFD Chief Mark Scott, after the International Association of Fire Fighters gave the fire chief a vote of no confidence and after his assistant chief raised concerns about the chief’s behavior.
When we interviewed Peterson in April about firefighters’ concerns, including low morale, he said he didn’t think it was a major issue.
“I don’t think it’s an epidemic as perhaps some of the folks in the fire bureau would like to present it to be,” Peterson said in April. “I do not think it’s that big of an issue.”
According to Peterson’s evaluation, commissioners want him to report his fire department employee relations strategy back to leaders by October 20.
“We will certainly work together to address all of the goals and objectives that they have set out and I look forward to accomplishing all of those and being successful,” Peterson said Wednesday. “Every employee can always perform better and this is my opportunity to perform better in their eyes. I mean, we’ve got a multitude of things to work towards in this organization and that’s just another one of the issues that we want to make improvements on this year.”
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